Leaving the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the late afternoon, we wanted to make our way further south towards Los Angeles. Leaving Highway 101, we opted for the more attractive coastal road. Highway 1 passes through an area called Big Sur – 90 miles of undeveloped cliff-side road.
Despite being sandwiched between LA and San Francisco, it still feels like a wilderness. Giant Redwood trees grow all the way down to the coast and the waves crash against the ragged rocks below. The narrow road twists its way southwards with very few places to stop. There are only a handful of hotels allowed in the national park, and a brave few drivers seem to stop their RVs illegally in the occasional turnoff. There are only a few points where it’s easy to get down to the shore 500ft below the road. These are popular spots for divers and kite surfers.
Bixby Creek Bridge
Twenty kilometres south of Monterey is Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the highlights of the coastal road. The bridge was opened in 1932. Before that the residents of Big Sur were all but cut off during the winter months .
When we finally reached the other side of the park we entered a town called Cambria. Cambria was short on cheap motels. We’d passed a few chain places on the edge of Big Sur, a long way outside of town, but had continued on in the dark in the hopes of getting something more central. A search on a couple of mobile apps came up with nothing under $200 so we ended up stopping at the cheapest family-run motel in town.
I’m always for supporting the local community, but after a long day this place was just such a disappointment. The room was right next to the noisy road; there was no internet, no breakfast and only 7 channels on the TV, all of them fuzzy. Worst of all, it was $93/night.
I can see why the hotels chains are taking over in the US. The largest chain seems to be Choice Hotels. Their cheapest brand is Econolodge, where for $59 you get a quiet room with internet access, a fridge and a simple breakfast. Nothing fancy, but everything you need.
Going through Priceline or Hotwire, a room at Econolodge or Extended Stay America can be found for as little as $34. I know the family run places can’t compete on price or economies of scale, but they could on quality of service or simple friendliness. Guests would hopefully accept that the slightly higher price was actually better value.
All of the family run places we tried were either considerably more expensive, or had no amenities. Those we stayed at down the West Coast were often a bit grumpy at the front desk. The friendliness of the family run places improved considerably once we reached the Gulf Coast, but by then we were tired of taking the chance and usually tended toward the cheapest option.
A shame really, and I’m sure there are exceptions in many hotels, but it was such a contrast with the warm welcome we’d always receive in restaurants, bars and shops throughout the US.